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We’re hiking along a trail in the south island of New Zealand when the thoughts start to come. New Zealand had been a bucket list destination and the scenery, outdoor activities, and people did not disappoint. We were hiking on Hooker Valley Track, a must-do from our Google searches and also one my out-of-shape self could do without my mood nearly ending our marriage. We were surrounded by snowy mountains and clear running water, trekked over multiple suspension bridges, and ate lunch overlooking a lake with glaciers peaking above the surface. It reminded me of so many places we’ve been - mini Swiss mountains, rugged Scottish highlands, and the rivers and trees of the Columbia River Gorge. It’s no wonder to me that my thoughts turned to my dad.

He would love this, I thought, in a context that felt both past and present. It was enough to make me halfway forget for the tiniest of moments that he died in 2014. I indulged myself by playing out the scenario of taking my dad back to this exact trail.

Kaitlyn and I would get back to the U.S. and tell him he had to go, that the PNW had just been his training grounds. My dad absolutely loved the outdoors - walking, hiking, backpacking, camping. If it involved landscapes, solitude, and a car full of “ultra light” REI gear, he was in. He was a walking encyclopedia for the Columbia River Gorge and could give recommendations based on view, distance, and incline (though sometimes he undersold the difficulty).

“Did you go camping a lot growing up?” Kaitlyn once asked.

“It felt like more than I did,” I replied. Not because it was bad or that I was suffering through, but because it was memorable. He took my older sister and me backpacking at Blue Lake, and there were at least a couple summer trips to Takhlakh Lake. I remember several hikes in the gorge, him leading the way with his heavy backpack of camera gear and walking stick that doubled as a tripod.

And on the trail to New Zealand, I imagined what it might be like to be his tour guide (I mean, I had been there a whole week by this point). I thought about convincing him to come and us hiking more in preparation. So quickly I fell into the details of warning him that customs would take forever with camping equipment and reassuring him that Kaitlyn would do all the driving since it’s on the opposite side of the road.

I’m not exactly sure why I let myself get so deep into the thought. Maybe it was the peace of the trail or maybe it’s just a manifestation of my desire to plan everything, but it was like one of those dreams where he was alive again. In those dreams there’s still a cognitive dissonance I can’t escape, even in my subconscious, but still it feels rationally unexplainable and I carry on. This is the journey my mind went on halfway across the world.

What’s interesting is that I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have had the same planning thoughts if my dad was still alive. Like, I can’t actually imagine Kaitlyn and I ever going on a trip with just my dad. And aside from the initial report back on our trip, or maybe even a casual recommendation that he should go (not with us, to be clear), I wouldn’t have anything else to say. I was never super close with my dad. I remember both the super awkward conversations and also the lack of conversation. He was hard to read, quiet and reserved. Particular. It was honestly more complicated than not and the thing is, that complication persists through grief.

I was seeing a therapist during the time my dad died. It came out of nowhere and was nothing short of traumatic. My dad was in the hospital 10 days before he died, and I had a therapy session in those 10 days. It was the very beginning of my grappling with what was about to happen. I didn’t even know where to begin processing and it was further complicated by all my feelings being tangled in a web of shock. But as I tried to start talking through what had happened, the conversation naturally evolved to the relationship itself.

I had regrets. I had unfinished business. I had frustrations and discomfort. I had core parts of myself he didn’t know, that I wasn’t sure he would accept. I didn’t get closure, and I’m not even sure what “closure” would’ve looked like.

“Don’t you think he has regrets too?” my therapist asked.

And the thing is, it’s so common when people die to put them on a pedestal. To never speak ill of them, to only remember the good parts. As if they were perfect. And I think my internal struggle was that I didn’t want him to be on a pedestal. That didn’t feel authentic, didn’t feel representative. Most people don’t talk about the cognitive dissonance that comes with being overwhelmingly sad and…confused? Frustrated? Unsettled? Nobody told me about the “and” situation.

I miss my dad. I wanted him at my wedding. I wanted him to help with projects when we bought our house - to coach me through built-ins and teach me about woodworking and help me set up a little workshop in our garage. I wanted his advice on the best gear to get (and maybe borrow) when we went backpacking. I wanted to talk coding with him when I got a job in tech.

“You can plan for the typical events,” my friend’s mom said to me once when we were talking about grief. “The anniversaries, the birthdays, the holidays. It’s the little moments that are so hard. The ones that catch you off-guard, that hit you when you’re unprepared.”

New Zealand was one of those moments. And as time goes on, I’ll keep having these moments. Keep remembering that grief isn’t linear and it doesn’t have an end date. Which is how I could end up in New Zealand, randomly imagining a trip that would never happen both because it’s physically impossible and also because relationships are weird. It also helps explain why my dad’s number is still in my phone when I don’t remember ever calling him up just to chat. I'm learning to hold space for both truths, learning that feelings are as deep as the experiences that bring them, and grief is as complex as the life lived before.

I got my first salaried job in 2014. In the 9 years since then, I’ve worked for 9 different companies, made a major career change, and pivoted from the world of public education to the corporate space. Despite these statistics, I haven’t actually changed my job every year. In fact, I managed to stay at one of them for a whopping three years! On the other hand, my shortest tenure was 3 weeks at a mess of a company that absolutely wreaked havoc on my mental health. In my most tumultuous year, I filed my taxes with 5 W-2s (the agony). While I’d like to think I’m not completely unreliable, the reality is a trend of staying at a job for an average of a year and a half.

Rather than doing any necessary self-reflection on why this is (there’s one common denominator here), let me instead impart my wisdom on applying for jobs in 2023. I think you’ll see that I’m uniquely qualified for this role (let the note-taking commence) because despite my resume being marked with a scarlet Absolutely Not, I do miraculously keep getting interviews.

To start, let’s first acknowledge a significant caveat that the process I’m about to describe applies mostly to the corporate setting. If you’re looking for work in another sector, the following additional considerations apply:

  • Higher ed - Add at least two months to the interview process, including a presentation to a faculty panel regardless of its applicability to your role.

  • Public K-12 - Combine all steps into one 30 minute interview and are you able to start immediately?

  • Government - I have no experience so can’t really say but judging by the current state, you’re probably too young for consideration.

This post is also going to describe the process of success, which I whole-heartedly acknowledge is rare and still somewhat mystical. Part luck, part experience, part privilege, part connections. The ratios vary but the constant is that you never really know when it’s going to be the one. Details, details.

With that out of the way, let’s get into it. We begin with phase one - the prep. My strategy for this has admittedly changed over the years. What started as very methodical has shifted to a focus on speed and sheer volume. You’ll need to update your resume with your current work experience, add in some power phrases (the word “champion” should be used at least once), and potentially give it a visual refresh. Double-check that you don’t have any typos, but also accept that you won’t see the typo you missed until you’ve applied to at least 50 companies.

Next, you need to outline the minimum criteria you’ll accept, or, phase two. For me, that criteria includes:

  • Absolutely no people managing, leading teams, or expectations for regular presentations

  • Fully remote

  • Company rating greater than or equal to 4 stars on GlassDoor

  • Within salary range (ain’t nobody got time for companies who don’t post it)

  • No travel greater than 5%

  • No requirement for a cover letter

Once you set the bare bones needs and dealbreakers, you’re on to phase three: throw out your resume to every job that passes the first scan. This stage starts off mildly exciting but quickly becomes a brutal test of resilience. Keep in mind the pace is quick. If a company doesn’t get back to you within 3-5 days, it’s time to mentally write them off. 5% of the time this will be accompanied by a formal rejection email but the rest of the time it’ll just feel like you’re throwing your resume into the void. This is where breadth over depth works in your favor. Don't worry, we planned for this.

Phase four is when morale receives a boost. A recruiter reaches out to you -there’s interest! This is when you start researching the company and immediately begin imagining what your life would be like at the new job. Read through the reviews, try to figure out the benefits situation, do some light LinkedIn stalking, and I guess maybe take a look at what the company actually does. Phase four is when you officially become emotionally invested, but buckle up, because the emotions only get more intense from here.

All that prep happens as soon as someone reaches out to you and before phase five - the actual interviews. It starts with a 30 minute call from a recruiter to make sure you’re an actual human and you read the job description. You skimmed it the first time but after phase four your hard work will start to pay off and you'll be able to speak eloquently on how you couldn't imagine a role more tailor made for you. Speaking of pay, your primary goal during this call is to try to pin them down a little bit on the actual salary range. Although you’ve already weeded out the non-posters and the low-ballers, the rest will likely say something like, “the base salary range for this position is expected to be between $32,000 and $245,000”. Those sneaky bastards.

Phase six brings an interview with the hiring manager where the primary goal is to make sure you didn’t lie on your resume and you actually know what you’re talking about. This is maybe the most important step - not necessarily for securing the job but to help inform The Decision. The hiring manager is likely going to be your manager in the actual role and managers Make. The. Job. It would be better if there was a site like unto where, rather than rate the entire company like GlassDoor reviews, former employees can give anonymous reviews of their manager. Consider this my formal call to software developers everywhere to make it happen. In the meantime, you’ll have to be satisfied with the company-wide cultural commentary and also exercise constant vigilance during the interview. Be on high alert for any whiffs of micromanagement, unrealistic expectations, or otherwise toxic behavior.

During phase seven, the interview cycles can branch out in several different ways: submit a portfolio (have you really been working the past couple years?), technical interview (again, the lie test), panel interview (your second chance at a vibe check), cultural fit (are you an asshole?), and finally, upper-management interview (a formality. You will never talk to them again). If you’re anxious, add plus or minus 24 hours before and after each interview for inner turmoil, rehearsing, analyzing, rehashing, and overall paralysis.

If you make it through this roller coaster - congratulations! You’re onto phase eight (or 14, who can say) - the offer! This is your first indication of the validity of those GlassDoor reviews you obsessed over and where you start to evaluate how well they match up to your expectations. But first, take a minute to bask in the validation that they want you and settle into the peace that the interviewing is finally over. You did it! You're good enough!

If you’re extroverted, confident, or just, like, not part of a marginalized population, this might even even lead to phase 8b - negotiation. I have no advice here.

Phase nine is arguably the most annoying because, even for non-serial-job-hoppers, it’s repetitive - telling your current employer (and family and friends) you’re jumping ship for something else. Be prepared to express your “mixed emotions” over and over, as if the “bittersweet” news isn’t 100% your doing. Throw in phrases like, “I wasn’t actually looking but it’s an opportunity I can’t pass up” to help fuel the narrative that only something AMAZING could ever pull you away from this totally replaceable job. Record a mental talking track of what your next role will be, your start date, and whether or not you’re doing anything fun or relaxing between jobs. You’ll have two weeks of this conversation peppered with sifting through the docs on your computer for the ones that actually need to be handed over for your manager to never look at again (but stresses the importance of). It’s grueling, but this is one of the few steps in the process with a predefined end date. You can make it. Unless, of course, you’re one of those rockstars who makes their departure effective immediately. The company is still in the same spot but you’ve saved yourself from the Goodbye Merry Go Round. You’re a person before your time.

I think most people would end here and say that phase ten, starting the new job, isn’t part of the application process. And it’s true, you have the job! But it only takes one failed onboarding experience (remember the three-week disaster?) to know that the first couple months is still an evaluation. Most companies have some variation of a probationary period and you’re most likely trying to prove yourself and make a good impression. But the interview process unfairly gives more time for the company to assess you than for you to assess them. Phase ten marks the end of the speed dating round, when both of you have to determine if the relationship is a good fit or if you’ve been catfished after all.

Ideally though, the beginning of the job is the honeymoon period. Again, if you’re anxious and/or introverted, give yourself at least two weeks of complete discomfort in not knowing anyone or anything. Then, settle into the learning stage, the small, tightly scoped projects, and the discovery of fringe perks (you know how I love the swag). The post-anxiety beginning is as good as it gets. Hold on as long as you can and be proud you made it through the process to successful employment!

So anyway, in totally unrelated news I just hit the one year mark at my current job. And yes, I updated my resume.

This is what a $130 blog post looks like. Not like it’s worth $130, but it cost me $130. I make exactly $0 as a writer. So maybe I should actually say, “This is what a -$130 blog post looks like.” That feels more on brand. But let’s get to the real question - how did a person who hates spending money end up shelling out $130 for a blog post that’ll likely take 4 minutes to read and reach approximately 8 people? Answer: Because it was The Thing.

You know, The Thing. The hyperfixation on whatever gadget or tool or electronic or fill-in-the-blank-whatever-else that’s the literal key to your happiness and well-being. The Thing personifies change and better habits, resolve and dedication, joy and self-growth. It’s both the will of the universe and the path to self-actualization. Once you have The Thing, you realize your full potential. The noun becomes the verb. And it all comes at the low, low price of $129.99. At least that was the case for me. Because The Thing that was going to absolutely transform my life was a mechanical keyboard.

Have I always wanted a mechanical keyboard? No. Did I even need a keyboard? Also no. Was I going to obsess over researching them until I finally bought one? Indeed.

And that’s the really sticky part. My hyperfixation ultimately becomes so unwieldy that sometimes it feels like I need to buy The Thing so that I can fully kick off the inevitable – I lose interest in two weeks and get on with my life. This is how I ended up buying a keyboard during 2022, The Year of No Writing.

I honestly don’t remember exactly how it started. It might’ve been a TikTok, might’ve been a coworker in the cubicle next to me, or might’ve just been a targeted ad to lure me down the rabbit hole. But down that bottomless hole I fell.

I’ve always wanted a typewriter (thank you to my grandpa and the movie Finding Forrester) and a mechanical keyboard is the perfect 21st century retro-but-not-too-retro replacement. Wouldn’t it just be so satisfying to type on? The clicking, the resoluteness, the confident snaps of productivity. So satisfying, in fact, that I’d be motivated to write every day. This is all I’ve been missing.

What began as casual browsing quickly spiraled to details I didn’t even know existed a day before. Suddenly I was researching the merits of different key switches, key profiles, key cap styles and heights. Soon my Google search history was full of phrases like, “simple keyboard mods” (the only way anyone referred to modifications) and “best foam for creamy sounding mechanical keyboard”. I went deep. I got lost on YouTube videos of people typing on different keyboards (from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars) and listening to reviews of different models. I checked my mini screwdriver set to make sure I had the right size and kept the keyboard in my cart for weeks as I wasted away an unreasonable amount of time thinking about it. I stayed up late watching videos, coveting the office setups of YouTubers and TikTokers who review these keyboards. From the moody, all black, dark wood, rainbow-backlit-everything, dark wood to the bright white desk and pegboard also rainbow-backlit-everything desk setups. I wanted that life.

And one day I finally did it. I bought a Keychron K6 68 key wireless bluetooth mechanical keyboard with Gateron G Pro red switches and upgraded to the aluminum frame to make it feel even more luxurious. I waited patiently for it to arrive and my life to change.

“Building a keyboard” is less intimidating than it sounds. At least the way I did it by buying it as a kit. It’s less “building” and more “assembling”. No motherboard (pause while I Google if those are real and not just in classic computer hacking scenes), no soldering iron, no mechanical work. It’s really popping in the switches, screwing in the frame, and individually snapping on each keycap. The most thought-provoking part is just making sure you have the keys in the right place. But, building a keyboard gives the nerdy vibe I was going for.

I’d already picked out which mods I was going to do before the keyboard got there and really I kept it simple. One was to tape the back of the keyboard with painters tape before putting it in the frame, and the other was to get some different foam to go between the keyboard and the frame. Both were easy enough to not feel intimidating but enough to make me feel like I was fully embracing the experience. I wanted a keyboard that sounded like my favorite clips.

Now, we’ve got to fast forward significantly because I bought the keyboard A YEAR AGO and I’ve used it for actual typing exactly one time. It accomplished the goal of sounding super satisfying but I weirdly don’t love how it feels. I want more heft to the keys, more resistance, more typewriter-ness. It’s a fine keyboard. But it’s not my favorite. And after the one use, it now sits on my desk, right next to the keyboard I actually use, and I occasionally tap my fingers across the keys for a 30 second ASMR break. I keep it there because part of me still refuses to fully accept my financial mistake.

Part of the problem is that as much as I love technology, I actually write the best with a pen and paper. I wish that wasn’t the case because it can be kind of a pain to type stuff up I’ve already written but there’s something about it that just helps me feel more connected, helps me think less about the act of writing and more about the thoughts themselves. When I started having success with writing again, it’s because I bought a $5 wire-bound notepad from the grocery store. There’s something about it that feels less intimidating.

A week ago I saw an ad that sent me down a days-long rabbit hole of researching the Remarkable 2. A Remarkable 2 is a digital tablet that mimics the feeling of pen and paper. Think of a Kindle but for writing. This, this is how quickly it starts. Never mind that my sensory sensitivities currently require a very particular kind of paper and pen (don’t be coming at me with a garbage Bic pen). And never mind the fact that I ALREADY HAVE AN IPAD. This is different. This is dedicated solely to writing - no distractions! People give it great reviews and something that hinges on the concept of being like paper and pen has to deliver, right? It even converts your handwriting to typed text at the touch of a button. Think of all the time I’d save. Think of all the trees I’d save. Think of all the stuff I’d get done. It’s the most environmentally-friendly, efficient, productive, career-launching decision.

I've heard that change is like a spiral. When there’s something hard for us to learn, we keep encountering the same lesson over and over again. While it may seem like we’re trapped in a loop with absolutely no progress, over time we make small changes that gradually shift our trajectory upwards. From the top down, the situation is a 2D circle. From the side, it’s a 3D spiral of gradual transformation. And here I am at that pivotal spot where the end meets the beginning, where I decide if I alter my behavior, if I make that move upwards.

I mean, I know that The Thing won’t actually change me. I know that I’m going to get tired of it. That there will be that boost of serotonin at the beginning but after a couple days or weeks or months it’ll wear off and I’ll lose interest. I know I’ll feel sheepish having this collection of electronics that I only mildly use. I know all this.

And yet.

I’m pretty sure the -$428 blog post is right around the corner. There’s no need to be hating on circles.

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